Six Students Selected to Participate as DREAM 2017 Scholars

DREAM Scholars 2017


Each year, Achieving the Dream conducts a national competition among students of ATD Network colleges to participate in a year-long experiential learning program to enhance leadership, critical thinking, and networking skills. Students are nominated by their institution and selected through a competitive national application process. A hallmark of the program is for DREAM Scholars to attend and present at ATD’s annual professional development conference, DREAM. The cohort just announced will convene in San Francisco, CA, in February, and will participate in the DREAM2017 conference.

We are proud to introduce the 2017 ATD DREAM Scholars.


Enrique Sepulveda III
Miami Dade College
Political Science

In his own words, Ricky’s story “has a tough beginning and middle.” He’s had to overcome being homeless, having poor academic discipline, and being disconnected from education. He grew up in Miami-Dade County, Florida, raised by his mother while his father served time in federal prison. He describes how his life as a boy and young man, with too many opportunities to follow in his father’s footsteps, shaped him into who he is today. “There were no real role models. The real part was growing up not knowing anything beyond poverty and struggle. The one good and real thing I could count on was school.”

Today, Ricky is the vice president of the student government association at the Wolfson Campus of Miami Dade College, studying political science and has aspirations of becoming a community leader.

“One of the things I am most passionate about is helping others to find their voice, find their passion, and find their stride. Because once you have found your stride, even if you take a misstep, mess up, or fall down, it is so much easier to get up once you have already had a stride. So my passion, really, is helping others to find their stride, or find it again, while keeping mine.”

Christopher Son
Onondaga Community College
Communication Studies

Christopher’s family immigrated to New York from Vietnam just before he was born. The family moved around a lot during his childhood, seeking jobs to help them stay afloat financially. He lost interest in his school work at that time, and eventually dropped out of high school.

“I had no idea what I wanted or what I hoped to do, so I just spent my time sitting around, playing

video games, and avoiding responsibility,” he says. “It took me some time but I realized I needed a change or I could never make anything of myself.” He earned his GED, and then enrolled in Onondaga Community College.

“Once I began going to classes, I realized that education was much more than I had thought. I first thought of a college degree as passport to being something, my experience at OCC taught me that the education I would receive was worth more than just the diploma. The college, professors, and students were helping me to find the confidence to be something in a way I had not thought possible when I dropped out of high school,” he says. He is currently one of the vice presidents of Phi Theta Kappa there, and the head leader in the Scholar to Scholar Peer Mentoring Program where second year PTK students pair with incoming freshman or other students to help them succeed. He credits his education, the community at OCC, and his relationship with his professors with helping him find clarity and purpose.

Jesus Suarez
Cuyamaca College
General Chemistry

Joining student clubs and volunteering his time is what sparked Jesus’ interest as a high school student. He joined his school’s Latino/Hispanic activism club, Si Se Puede chapter, then joined a chapter and became active in a student-led event that raised money and collected warm clothing for shelters in Tijuana, Mexico.

Today, Jesus a general chemistry major at Cuyamaca College and is active in the Associated Student Government there. “I often hear that students are more likely to succeed if they have attachments to their community, their school and participate in extracurricular activities,” he says. “My campus began talking of Achieving the Dream program relatively recently, as far as my involvement in my campus shared governance goes. I remember hearing how excited professors, faculty, and staff were about the changes would enable and the real student-oriented approach made me really happy. I was fortunate enough to be a member of my college’s various Achieving The Dream student focus groups.”

He is involved in two large projects conducted by both students and administrators at Cuyamaca, Cross Cultural Center and the Contemplation Space on campus, and is proud of his work to enact real change.

Mac Donald Taylor, Jr.
Delaware County Community College
Paralegal Studies

Mac Donald is a non-traditional student working on his associate of applied science degree in paralegal studies at Delaware County Community College. While in school, Mac Donald is leading his peers as Paralegal Club President and peer mentor. At home, he’s a husband and father of four children.

Coming from a background of abuse and legal trouble, he focused on his faith and on his studies to get him on a new path. “I am passionate about working to ensure equality and fairness across all ethnicities, religious, and social economic backgrounds with a focus on reaching prisoners preparing them to re-enter society and their families. I used my past failures as fuel to drive me to forward. As a Christian, I live each day knowing that I can do all things through Christ who provides me strength,” he says.

After completing his degree in paralegal studies, he plans to work to ensure equality and fairness for individuals across all ethnicities, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, with a focus on reaching prisoners, helping to prepare them to re-enter society and rejoin their families.

RyKai Wright 
Community College of Allegheny County
Mechanical Engineering Technology

In addition to pursuing a degree in engineering technology, RyKai works at the nonprofit organization Best of the Batch Foundation, an educational program that serves more than 3,000 children in six counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. “We provide financially challenged youth and their families with the purpose, desire and resources to give their best efforts in all they do throughout their lives. By developing after-school programs, awarding scholarships for students, restoring playgrounds and offering sports and leisure activities, we show our commitment to the success of our youth and their families. I became affiliated with the foundation in 2014 when I won the Danyl Settles Scholarship from them my senior year of high school,” she says. She’s worked there for two years.

In addition to her studies and her work at the Foundation, RyKai also gives her time at her college, Community College of Allegheny County, serving as an officer of Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, Alpha Iota Eta chapter, and Co-President of a college project at South Campus. She also shares an Ambassador position for two different organizations, the Honors Program and the Ambassador Program.

RyKai credits her experience in leadership positions at the college and her work at the Foundation for pushing her to be her best, and encouraging her to step out of her comfort zone.

Yolanda Zenteno Martinez 
Columbus State Community College
Business Administration/Corporate Law

Yolanda’s goal is to become an attorney. She has a passion for helping others, getting to know their background, and advocating for equal opportunity for higher education for immigrant students.

“I was always thought that when you do things for the greater good of others, rather than for yourself, the reward is much greater. No one in my family actually said those words to me; instead, I was taught by example,” she says. “I remember my father would always go out of his way, regardless of whatever he was doing, to help others, even though he himself did not have much to give.” She was 17 years old when her father passed away and, as the oldest of three girls, she became the “second parent in my home.”

She works hard at her studies at Columbus State Community College, and also at applying for scholarships. And often that work takes her longer than many of our fellow students; English is a second language for Yolanda. “I am student who is hopeful that one day, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students and other immigrant students will be eligible for financial aid. Being a DACA student myself is why I am really passionate to share my story with others and advocate for undocumented students,” she says. “A lot has been done in this regard but there is still a long way to go for undocumented students to have equal opportunity to higher education. After all, the United States is meant to be a place where anyone can receive opportunity.”

Yolanda is pursuing degrees in business administration, with her sights set on attending law school to study corporate law.

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